This book focuses on leadership as a visual discourse and explores the construction of this discourse within the context of Bedouin Arabia, and the Middle East more broadly. In it, the author considers business and organisational leadership from an aesthetic perspective and in the context of various geographical and historical settings. The book examines the work of a variety of artists, and examines how public representations of business and political figures are used as a tool of leadership.
Using a Foucauldian perspective, the book explores the interconnected concepts of power and knowledge, examining how visual images are used in the Middle Eastern context for leaders to communicate with their followers and the public. The Bedouin business world provides a unique opportunity for the researcher to examine the interplay between culture, management and politics. The book will be of interest to academics working in the fields of aesthetics, leadership, management, culture, and the Middle East more broadly.
Dr. Amer Bitar is a researcher, and international executive specializing in media and strategy in the Middle East region. He has worked with a range of institutions in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East to assist in formulating international strategies and managing regional expansion of operations. He has more than 22 years of professional experience in international development, crafting and executing strategies, managing media firms, licensing, and project management.
Chapter 1: Visualizing Leadership in Bedouin Arabia
In Chapter 1, I present the topic of study, clarify the terminology (including such fundamental concepts as Arab, Arabic, Arabia, Muslim, and Orient), and describe the philosophical perspective, particularly with respect to Foucauldian analysis, and the methodology. In the process, I explain my approach to leadership as a socially constructed phenomenon and the theoretical framework for the book. This introductory chapter also provides an overview of the relevant academic literature on leadership and the ontological foundation of the research regarding the power of visual messages.
Chapter 2: The Leader's Perspective
The focus in Chapter 2 is on the visual discourse of leadership, with publicly displayed images of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the Bedouin leader of Dubai, serving as a case study. The analysis presented here is based on the first phase of the empirical research that I conducted for this project. More specifically, I describe the point of view established by a select set of official representations of Dubai's leading business and political figure.
Chapter 3: The Artist's Voice
In Chapter 3, I explore the creation of visual images by presenting the results of semi-structured, in-depth interviews with eight Arab artists. These interviews provide a nuanced picture of the communication process, including the context and the content of leadership messages. I draw attention to the social, cultural, and historical dimensions of these artists' work in order to arrive at insights into their notions of leadership, power, authority, discourse, surveillance, heroism, and gaze.
I purposely selected artists from diverse backgrounds for the interviews. Thus, some painted portraits and others did not; some were living in the UAE and others elsewhere. The interview questions concerned the artist's subjects, what they aimed to achieve through their art, their representation of leadership, the concept of power, the influence of Bedouin society on their paintings, and their depiction of the UAE and other governments. I also asked about the artistic process, including the use of color and light. Included in this chapter as well are numerous reproductions of these artists' work so that readers of the book can appreciate for themselves the power of the images as they are discussed.
Chapter 4: The Audience's Perspective
In Chapter 4, the focus is on the audience for and the reception of messages relating to leadership encoded in images. For this third phase of my empirical research into the visual aspects of leadership and audiences' interpretations of messages, I presented three of the images of Sheikh Mohammed discussed in Chapter 2 to ten residents of Dubai of various nationalities and cultural backgrounds. The chapter, then, explores their assessments of these images.
Chapter 5: The Power of Aesthetics
The concluding chapter provides an overview of the findings from the perspectives on leadership established in the previous chapters. Thus the discussion addresses issues relating to the leaders who send visual messages, the artists who create such messages, and the audiences targeted by these messages. The topics explored include the power of symbols, images, and aesthetics, and particular attention is paid to the potential for a leader's images to function as a kind of surveillance apparatus, specifically, the panopticon that is a central theme in Foucault's work. The chapter concludes with an assessment of the practical implications of my findings in this regard for leadership in the context of the Bedouin business world.